Sunday, June 30, 2013

Paul and PoE

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on 23rd June 2013 and at St Augustine’s Canterbury on 30th June 2013

In your experience,
why do you think people choose not
to believe in God?

Is it because they can’t see Him?
Because they don’t want to be told what to do?
Because Science somehow explains everything?

It’s arguably true
that the reason that most people
do not believe in God is
because “bad things happen to good people”.

Most people lose their faith in God
because they experience some excruciating agony
or witness the agony of others
and believe that they do not receive
the slightest respite from God.

They receive rather
a seemingly continuous barrage of misfortune
coupled with a divine silence.

God says nothing at all,
or at least,
 that’s how it appears.

It’s true to say that we’ve all felt that silence.

It does seem reasonable
to want to hold God to account
when an accident hurts us or someone we love
 and we don’t know why.

 The Psalmist says,
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me,
and from the words of my roaring?“

Indeed the psalms
are filled with complaints about injustice
and God’s apparent lack of interest.

“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD?
Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?”

Can there be a satisfactory answer to these complaints?


Well, many people have tried to give answers
to God’s silence at our suffering,
but they often tend to be glib
 and unsatisfactory
 especially in the light of the appalling
and relentless suffering
that people go through every day.

Every time we try and see
where God might be,
 we come back to the nature of our pain.

That’s the trouble with pain.
It’s very difficult to ignore
 if not impossible.

 Pain of any sort has a nasty tendency
not just of being deeply unpleasant
 but demanding our immediate
and undivided attention. 

When you stub your toe,
the next few minutes are usually spent
hopping around and saying a few choice words
until the pain subsides.

That’s okay when the pain goes away quickly.
 But what if it stays?


Pain is a natural response.

If we feel pain
whether it be physical, emotional, or even spiritual,
 then it is a sign that something is wrong
and needs to be put right for it to cease.

When we can put things right,
 then we feel better and life can continue. 

When we can’t,
then we’re stuck with feelings
 that we desperately seek an end to
but have no power to end them.

 This just adds pain to pain.
Insult to injury.

If we are mindful of our dependence on God,
 then we rely on Him to control the uncontrollable.

If He does not take away our pain,
 then we are tempted to reject Him
under the belief that He has rejected us.

We are tempted to cease to care about Him
because He has apparently demonstrated
that He does not really care about us.

Our suffering,
or the sight of someone else suffering
 can tempt us to see things amiss.

 Our vision narrows to the point
where nothing else matters.

 Not only can we not see the bigger picture,
 we could even deny the bigger picture even exists.

Like Job we are tempted to curse God and die.

The suffering of every single innocent person,
 of men, women and children,
so many little children,
causes us heartache to the point
 of losing our faith in God.

During his persecution,
St Paul tells us,
“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time
are not worthy to be compared
with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
St Paul reminds us to hang on to the hope of Heaven.

This is a man who has been whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked
and he sees it all as unworthy of Heaven.

If there is no Heaven,
then all the pain and misery of millions
 is purposeless, meaningless and cruel.

St Paul tells us to look upwards to Christ Himself.


One day we will stand before God.

We will stand before Him
covered in a mass of scars and wounds and marks
caused by all the sufferings of our lives,
some of our own making
and some made by Life's injustice.

 And He will look upon
our hurts and anguishes,
the times we have cried at the injustice of the world,
 the times we have screamed out in pain
or sobbed into our pillows,
the times we have crawled with hunger
upon the floor of the desert
or watched another die,
all these scars etched onto our being,
and He will not remove
 any single little one of them.


What He will do make
each single little wound on our being
shine like the greatest jewel,
the most sumptuous diamond,
the most precious gold.

The suffering is not worthy to be compared
with the glory that is to be revealed in us,
in our wounds which cover our souls.

The suffering itself will cease;
it will pass away like chaff in the wind.

The scars that remain
God will cherish,
especially if these are wounds of love.

And God Himself will show us His scars
burning brighter than the Sun:
one in each hand,
 each foot
  and on His side.

The scars that His Resurrection body still bears.

 He shared His humanity with us
with all its pain, heartache and crushing misery,
so that we might share His Divinity with Him.


This does not explain why we suffer as we do.

This does not explain
why bad things happen to good people.

All we are presented with is the Cross,
 and the hope of the Resurrection behind it.

If there is an answer to the problem of Evil,
where will we find it?

Do you think knowing the answer
 would really make the pain go away?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Petertide and Petering out?

Well, happy St Peter's day, everyone! I think many homilies love to focus on just how ordinary St Peter was, how fallible, how irritating, how bullish and yet how loyal, how devoted and how accepting he was - a simple fisherman made a fisher of men. He is given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven and becomes the leader of the Holy Apostles - the word "prince" means leader. However, he is still the same person as that little fisherman. His ordination at the hands of Our Lord Jesus Christ marks him out for the good of Holy Church and, with his brethren and inspired by his personal witness of the work of the Holy Trinity, he participates in the changing of the world.

We sort of see his story repeated on TV shows like Britain's Got Talent when some hitherto unknown person comes on stage for the first time, performs magnificently, wowing the ever sceptical Simon Cowell, and rises to win the competition, the accolades and the praises of the nation. St Peter has won Gallilee's Got Faith and this little fisherman has become one of the inner circle that is centred on our Lord Jesus Christ.

We know that fame is fleeting and that it takes a very certain type of person whose name will outlive them by 50 years, so what about a couple of millennia? How does a fisherman become a household name in the West?

If the claim that Our Lord Jesus never in fact existed is true, then it's difficult to see how St Peter and St Paul, whose existence scholars do not doubt, gain the status above similar religious leaders of the time such as Honi the Circle Drawer. Indeed, we may have people like Joseph Smith and Joseph Rutherford who found religions with a basis on Christianity in the same way that it might be perceived that the Christians piggybacked on Judaism.

However, what is crucial is that, unlike Joseph Smith, or even the prophet Mohammed, St Peter is not the only witness to the Revelation nor is he the sole author of the texts that Christians hold to be definitive, truth bearing, and thus holy. His is a testimony among others, very much a primus inter pares, and that testimony is not a witness to his own doings but to the work of the Holy Ghost. He recognises in himself that he is not the author of the miracles at his hands, just as any priest is not the author of the miracle of the Eucharist. He is the leader of a group who have seen with their eyes, which  they have looked upon, and their hands have handled, namely the Word of Life.

The Faith of St Peter is certainly the rock on which the Church has indeed been built. What has been perceived as a small apocalyptic cult has grown through the efforts of this man and his companions, and unlike similar cults of the time, it has grown remarkably! The other cults have now become obscure because they simply do not have the authority imbued upon them from God. These cults had no Peter, because they have no Christ. Thus have they petered out.

St Peter nonetheless remains a little fisherman. There is nothing about him that is substantially different from any of us, save that he has had first-hand witness to the Life of Christ, and yet more blessed are we if we believe if we have not seen! It is because of his humanity that we can count on St Peter to point out Our Lord Christ to us when we are faced with locked doors.

Holy Peter, prince of Apostles, pray for us and for the Church which you love.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Missing the Mission

As the countdown tentatively begins towards my priesting, I am struck by the size of the task ahead of me. First, there is the fact that my poor Bishop has again suffered a major blow to his health which does put a small question-mark over whether the ordination will go ahead as planned. He is adamant that it will, and so I remain confident that all will take place as the Diocese expects.

However, underlying this injury, there is something that is really bugging me. I am reminded of the text: "And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." (St Mark xiv.27) Our Lord, in His inimitable fashion, is drawing us to the prophecy of Zechariah.
And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd , and the sheep shall be scattered : and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.  And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.  And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God. (Zechariah xiii.6-9)
It's rather disconcerting to think that our shepherd has been smitten again, and this naturally calls us to question whether there is something going on spiritually. Is the ACC being smitten in order to be purified? Or is our witness becoming dangerous to those who would that the Word of God be suppressed? If you have seen The Omen (1976), there is a remarkably staged scene with a pane of glass which halts one protagonist from removing the devil-child from the Earth.

As Christians in the U.K., we do face an increasingly uphill battle to broadcast our Faith to a society that describes itself as post-Christian. The main trouble is that most people have a very straw-man view of what Christianity is about or take their superficial experience of it as being true of the whole. As I walk through  the streets, youngsters shout, "praise the Lord!" intending to be ironic, but failing to realise that their flesh has just done that which they will not to willingly. Their assumption is that I am an evangelical Gospel preacher! I really don't think that I look like such a character. I've also been asked to bless a chap so that he can get back some money owed to him, as if God is a genie who specialises in bailiff duties.

The trouble is that so many people think they have Christianity summed up. While I appreciate that the Church has been indeed hypocritical and, at times, wholly unrepresentative of the God in which we believe, this doesn't render our Religion null and void. Indeed, our failings are predicted again and again in the very text that we hold dear. Christianity is all about the failure of humanity to be truly human and how it took God to show us how, not only by example, but also by giving us the opportunity to be perfected in Him. Even then, this is only a fragment of the situation.

There are just so many false assumptions that people make about Christianity. The Problem of Evil is indeed a problem that we all face, but it is also a problem for atheists as well as theists. Indeed, Alvin Plantinga has demonstrated that the Eurythphro dilemma has a plausible solution, reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God. Of course, if an Atheist wants to prove the non-existence of God, the sure-fire way is to assume that God exists and show that this leads to a complete contradiction. I don't see many atheists taking that challenge up seriously.

If Christians are to present a good case to society, then the Mission must lie in challenging the assumptions that are being made. This means listening to the stereotypes, misconceptions and even the hatred that people have for what they perceive the Church to be. Yes, there are concerns with some of the ways things have been done and the Church will have to account for its errors, but those errors are not doctrinal, but rather political and pastoral.

What does the Lord command? To make disciples of all nations. To baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And also...
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither  he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among  wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever  house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say,  Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. (St Luke x.1-11)

What is interesting here is that there is no question of trying to convert people by browbeating. The disciples are called to be doctors, healing all those who are ill or in pain. The Mission is about being uplifting, bringing the Kingdom of God near enough to people for them to see it and have the option of taking it into themselves. It is a Mission of showing God to people and for them to recognise His image in themselves. Atheists like to tell us that we don't think they can be good. We know that this is not true but we must show them, not force them to accept precepts they don't care about.

This calls for an enormous amount of faith on our part, and it is something that we should pray carefully about, because God wants labourers for His harvest. We can possess all kinds of things which we believe will help us to do the task, but God sends us out without them asking us to trust totally in Him. Only then do we receive from God the gifts that He wants to give us which we cannot carry if we are already carrying the baggage we've brought with us hitherto.
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.  Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. (St Luke x.19-20)

So we see, we simply have to put our trust in God and watch Him at work in us, but somehow we need to go out and do something. Boy, that is such a frightening thought! But then, God is not expecting us to do it all at once. There will be a place for us where we have to stay. We have to be faithful to that place because in that place we will have all that we need to get by. Masses and sacraments are fundamental to our experience of the real and living God, but people need to know that they are available. Indeed, they have to be brought into the community as a sure outward sign of the grace that God gives us. We remember that the Church is a sacrament in itself.

It is clear that we are supposed to take our time, but we cannot bide our time always. Our prayer lives should be active and our listening profound. We must set aside things of which we have no immediate need and we need to trust God. We also need to remember that while the task is big for us, it is not so big for Emmanuel - God with us.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Christianity: Meet the family!

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester on Fathers’ Day 16th June 2013


In your opinion,

what is the most important thing

a father has to have?


Does he have to be loving?



Able to change a dirty nappy

without the need for a clothes peg

on his nose?




Patient? Able to be able

to withstand being hit on the nose

by a well-aimed doll?



the most important thing a father has to have

 is a child in the first place.


You cannot be a father,

or a mother for that matter,

without a child.


What makes a father a father,

and a mother a mother

is having someone to call son or daughter.


Of course,

it is the quality of that relationship

that determines whether

you are a good father or mother.



Most of us would agree

that to be a good parent,

you need to be loving,

kind and self-sacrificing,

and very, very patient.


Is it possible to be loving,

 kind, self-sacrificing and patient

 and not be a parent?




It is while Jesus is teaching

 Pharisees, Scribes and the general people

 that someone comes up to him and says,

 "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without,

 desiring to speak with thee."


And Jesus makes the strange reply,

"Who is my mother?

and who are my brethren?"


He stretches out his hand to His disciples and says, 

"Behold my mother and my brethren!


For whosoever shall do

the will of my Father which is in heaven,

the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."


So it seems that whoever is loving

is indeed a brother or sister

or even mother of Jesus.



 The Lord is clearly talking about 

a family relationship that

He has with each of His disciples.


We might be able to understand

what it is to have the Lord as a brother,

but can we really see ourselves as His mother?


The Blessed Virgin cannot be described

as anyone other than Jesus' mother,

 but she is mother in a deeper sense

 that just a human family relationship.


She is Mother of God

and that fact cannot be denied.


She is not the mother of the just human bit of Jesus,

 because the Lord's human bit and divine bit

simply cannot be separated like that.


In calling his disciples his mother, 

Our Lord is not cheapening

Our Lady's relationship with Him

but rather extending her relationship with Him

 to us.


If we are the Lord's brethren,

then Mary becomes our mother too.



if we love one another

-      which is the will of God, after all,

we are His brothers,

sisters and mother.


But not father.


Why not?





To His local community of Nazareth,

Jesus will always be the son of St Joseph,

and yet have you noticed how little we hear

 about St Joseph after the Nativity stories?


It seems reasonable to accept the tradition

that St Joseph died before Our Lord started His ministry

and so ceases to be counted among the disciples.


It's also true to say that

whenever the Lord mentions His Father,

He is referring to The Father

– God the Father Almighty,

 Maker of Heaven and Earth.


It seems, then,

that we can never be regarded as Jesus’ Father

even when we are the best disciples

and this would be right.


The relationship between

God the Father and God the Son

 is utterly unique in all of reality.


Even so, we know that

God the Father cannot be a father without God the Son,

and God the Son cannot be a son

without the Father.


If the disciples can never be regarded as Jesus’ Father,

why do priests get called “Father”?




We know that Jesus teaches to “call no man father”.


He thus denounces anyone who seeks to be called “father”

 simply for the respect and status that it appears to give.

As we have seen, we can’t even call God,

 “Father” without realizing that He has a Son.


So to a good priest,

 being called “father” can only call up thoughts

 of having people for whom he has a duty of care.


When a good priest hears “father”,

he hears “father of whom?”

and remembers that he is under the direst penalties

 if he fails to look after anyone

whom the Heavenly Father

has entrusted to Him.


Those direst penalties will come

from within the priest himself.


A good priest truly loves his congregation

as his own flesh and blood.


It goes the other way too.


If we want good priests to thrive in our Church,

 then we have to support them fully in their ministry

in the same way that a child would want

 their good father to be able to continue

 to support them.


The respect that comes with being a father

is fundamentally conditional on the love

that the father invests into his children.


 Often, this is not always done and the results are deeply painful.


Fathers and priests are not perfect

and neither are children and congregations.


That’s a fact and not an indictment.

There are character flaws

and mistakes

and even the most grievous unkindnesses

 that come from the fallenness of our nature.


If we want our community

– our family –

to grow then both fathers and children

need to be aware of their duties to each other.


 Tolerance of each other’s failings goes both ways;

patience goes both ways;

respect goes both ways,

and, of course,

love goes both ways.


The more love we invest in our family,

and this does mean our family in God,

then the more that family makes

 the love of God real in our society.




It may be a tiny Church in which we worship,

 but is its very existence not proof

of the love of the Heavenly Father

and the love of human beings

committed to the family?


 How can we help that love to grow?